Mel Stottlemyre was Don Mattingly before Don Mattingly was Don Mattingly.

OK, maybe not completely.

I mean, Stottlemyre was a pitcher and Mattingly was a first baseman/batter extraordinaire.

But dig deeper, and you’ll see strong parallels.

Many young fans only know Mattingly — really — as a manager, first with the Dodgers, now with the Marlins.

Similarly, even kids of the 1970s and 1980s mostly know Stottlemyre as a pitching coach — as THE pitching coach for THE dynastic New York Yankees from 1996 through 2005, in fact.

But before that, and before he began his coaching career in 1977, Stottlemyre was a pitcher for those same Yankees, from 1964 through 1974.

Only, those weren’t the same Yankees at all, reaching the postseason just once in Stottlemyre’s run, a seven-game World Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Stottlemyre’s very first season (1964).

Sort of the inverse of Don Mattingly, who played for the Yanks from 1982 through 1995 but only made the playoffs in his final season, just before Stottlemyre came on as pitching coach.

And, just as Mattingly was a superstar in the Bronx during some lean years, Stottlemyre was the ace of the Yanks’ rotation from 1965 through 1973 (except for maybe 1971, when Fritz Peterson fought him for the honors).

Find 1968 Topps stickers on eBay(affiliate link)

Find 1968 Topps stickers on Amazon(affiliate link)

In his 11 years with New York, Stottlemyre went 164-139 with a 2.97 ERA, which left him with 43.1 WAR — not Cooperstown levels, but better than some Hall of Famers.

His reign was short but pretty close to brilliant, just like Donnie Baseball’s (Mattingly ended up with 42.4 WAR).

In 1968, Stottlemyre was at the height of his prowess and produced a primetime season that included a 21-12 record with a stingy 2.45 ERA, all of which of course got swallowed up by the “Year of the Pitcher” that unfolded in baseball that season.

Still, it was enough for the New York righthander to garner his third All-Star selection and some MVP votes. It also left Yankees fans with at least some hope as teammate Mickey Mantle finished off his last season in the Major Leagues.

And, speaking of Mantle, you already know that he appeared in just about every baseball card set there was to appear in from 1951 until forever, and 1968 was no exception.

One of the unusual issues that gave collectors a taste of The Mick that summer was the 1968 Topps Action All-Stars Stickers set, featuring 16 sticker panels that you could buy in packs (with bubble gum, of course) for a dime.

Each panel was a long vertical strip, with three die-cut players at the top, three at the bottom, and one large, solo dude in the center — Mantle got center billing, of course.

But guess who else appeared on one of those panels?

Yep, it was young Mel Stottlemyre, right there under center-cut Carl Yastrzemski on the bottom of panel #1 (and on #16, under Ron Santo).

The Yankees’ ace had made it, in hobby terms.

And a generation later, that other Yankees superstar who couldn’t seem to buy a postseason berth returned the favor — Don Mattingly and his 1984 rookie cards helped to make the hobby what it became, and what it is today.

We just didn’t realize at the time that we’d seen his kind before.

Hobby Hots

The 1968 Topps Stickers are super cool, of course, but as long as we’re dreaming about high-end vintage stuff for Christmas, we might as well go whole-hog …

That’s a 1968 Topps 3-D test issue card of Yankees outfielder Bill Robinson, for sale on eBay. Might make a decent stocking stuff, don’t you think?

Check out the full listing on eBay (affiliate link).

1968 topps baseball cards #1 to #65, complete your set

End Date: Thursday 05/09/2024 12:56:22 EDT
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